“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”.
So were the wise words of Aristotle.
We all want to be truly effective, but how can we do this? Our habits express our character and produce or effectiveness, or perhaps our ineffectiveness. Habits however, like most things, can be learned or changed. Here we will look at seven habits of effectiveness as summarized in Stephen R Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, which will take us through the stages of character development.
1. Be proactive. Being proactive means recognizing your responsibility and ability to make things happen, and working on your “circle of influence” – what you can control, what you can influence and what is out of your reach.
Of course, we will all make mistakes, but a proactive approach to a mistake is to acknowledge it instantly, correct it, and learn from it. To delay or to deny the mistake, is to miss its lesson.
Here are some key tips for improving your proactivity:
- Work only in your smaller circle of influence;
- Make small commitments to yourself and others, and keep them;
- Be the solution, not the problem.
2. Begin with the end in mind. The second habit of effectiveness is to begin with the end in mind – know where you’re going so as to understand where you are now, and take your next step in the right direction.
A key to this is to develop a personal mission statement. It describes what we want to be (character) and to do (achievements). Just like organisations need mission statements, so do we personally. Start developing your mission statement from a core of principles – principles don’t change; we can depend on them. And remember to review your mission statement regularly and make minor changes as needed.
3. Put first things first. The next habit involves self-leadership and self-management: putting first things first. Leadership decides what the “first thing” are, and management is the discipline of carrying out your program. To be an effective manager of yourself, you must organise and execute around priorities.
Three key ways to help with this are:
- Identify your key roles, whatever comes to mind as important.
- Think of two or three important results you feel you should accomplish in each role during the next seven days.
- Look at the week ahead with your goals in mind, and block out the time each day to achieve them. Once your key goals are in place, look at how much time you have left for everything else! How well you succeed will depend on how resilient and determined you are at defending your most important priorities.
Remember – we don’t manage time, we can only manage ourselves.
4. Seek to understand, then be understood. The most important thing we can do here is to really listen. Listen to others, not with intent to reply or to convince, but to understand, to see how they see things.
The skill to develop here is empathy. Empathetic listening is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully understand them, emotionally and intellectually.
This is powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with, instead of projecting and assuming your own thoughts and motives. You can only work with someone productively if you understand what really matters most to them.
5. Think Win/Win. Find a way both of you can benefit by your interaction. All the other possibilities are ineffective, either in the short term or the long term.
The best way to approach a win/win dealing is to have the attitude “win/win – or no deal”.
Three important traits are involved if we want to achieve this:
- Integrity. Be independent but at the same time cooperate with others and keep your promises and commitments to them and to yourself.
- Maturity. Have consideration to work for a win for others, but enough courage to make a win for yourself.
- Abundance Mentality. This recognises that possibilities for growth and success are potentially limitless, and sees in others the opportunity to complement its own strengths.
6. Synergise. Synergy is the highest activity of life; we unleash people’s greatest powers, and we make a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
The basis of synergy is that two people can disagree, and both can be right. This means that your approach is fundamentally based on respect, cooperation and trust. The objective is to find a third way – how both sides can be combined into something better.
7. Sharpen the saw. Habit seven is taking time to sharpen the saw – which is you! It’s the habit that makes all the others possible.
To sharpen the saw means renewing ourselves, in all four aspects of our natures:
- Physical – exercise, nutrition, stress management.
- Mental – reading, visualizing, planning, writing.
- Social/emotional – service, empathy, synergy, security.
- Spiritual – spiritual reading, study, and meditation.